Israel’s Foreign Ministry released an animated YouTube video on Monday mocking foreign journalists for their critical coverage of the country’s most recent invasion of the Gaza Strip. Journalists around the world have decried the cartoon, including Tel Aviv’s own Foreign Press Association. Few, however, are talking about how this video is public validation of the government of Israel’s racist view of Palestinians.
The 49-second spot follows a naive American English-speaking reporter through various Gaza settings where his coverage is contradicted by the actions of masked fighters in the background. At the very end, the camerawoman hands him a pair of glasses whereupon he sees “reality” and faints.
Creative? Not so much. As Robert Mackey demonstrates in this piece for the New York Times, the Israeli government has frequently turned to these kinds of mocking efforts to challenge negative public perception of Israel in the past half decade. The Israeli military similarly updated its Instagram followers with illustrated images during its 2014 offensive in Gaza. One of the more notorious ones depicts a mosque with a tunnel storing rockets underneath it. The image was used to swell public favor in support of the Israeli military’s decision to strike houses of worship across Gaza.
Was it humorous, then? Not at all — especially because the cartoon’s allegations are severe. Integrity is sacred in the journalism field, and the Ministry goes out of its way to non-specifically challenge the integrity of a wide array of foreign reporters and correspondents who have covered Israel’s activity in Gaza in recent years. Notably, Israel has a track record of preventing foreign journalists from entering Gaza, killing or detaining Palestinian journalists working within Gaza, and issuing gag orders to keep Israeli media from reporting on Israeli military and police activity in Gaza and the West Bank, respectively. This style of free press greatly undermines the message behind the Ministry’s cartoon.
This much has been discussed far and wide since the day the video went live. But what seems to escape most reports is the way it deliberately treats Palestinians.
In the opening scene, the first Palestinian to be seen is a niqabi woman pushing a baby carriage. Bearing in mind the Israeli government’s prolonged media campaign against Hamas, there is nothing accidental about this woman’s depiction. The niqab in this case is intended to symbolize a state of cultural and religious oppression that Israel routinely alleges is a consequence of “Hamas rule”. It also exploits the false notion that Gaza’s population is homogeneous and defined by one group’s supposed interpretation of the Islamic faith.
In the following scene, the correspondent reports from what is purported to be Hamas’ underground city that the tunnels are in fact part of a new subway system currently under construction. His next line takes a dig at Gaza’s infrastructure, saying that its construction would bring the territory’s “[public] transportation system into the twenty-first century.” Ironically, Israel’s repeated offensives on Gaza have made it exceptionally difficult for Palestinians to build and invest in these kinds of civil projects. Craters are quickly filled and patched and roads are almost always repaved and restored, but they are consistently destroyed within a short matter of years by another invasion.
The next scene takes on Hamas’ alleged position on homosexuality. This is a strategic move to portray Gaza as a homophobic environment. But as journalist and author Ali Abunimah tweeted, the only law against homosexuality in Gaza is one that was drawn up in 1936 by the occupying British. It is not enforced, and there is no record of Palestinians being executed for being gay by Hamas, contrary to accusations commonly made by Israel supporters. Despite the Israeli government’s loud efforts to show the country off as gay-friendly, it still does not allow same-sex marriage between individuals of different religions. Additionally, only heterosexual couples are allowed the option of surrogacy within Israel. Homosexual couples must look elsewhere, like to Nepal.
When all is said and done, of the ten cartoon characters drawn to represent Palestinians, one is a baby, one is a stereotypical “oppressed Muslim woman,” one is a man with a pride flag about to be tortured or executed, and the remaining seven are masked Hamas fighters. This is how the Israeli government sees the people of Gaza. Backwards, violent, oppressed — this is a state-sponsored rendition of the racism that guides Israel’s decision to wage war on Gaza. This is modern-day fear mongering. Applying the words of Israeli spokespeople the world over, “this is terrorism.”
Considering how American media generally tends to shadow the U.S. government’s alliances by cautiously reporting on Israel or otherwise failing to report on Palestinians with as much context or benefit of the doubt (the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren is a prime example of this), it would make more sense to see an animated clip criticizing journalists of unfairly reporting on Gaza or neglecting to provide extensive coverage on Israel’s exploitation of African immigrants and refugees, for example, or Israel’s relief mission to earthquake-stricken Nepal that evacuated over two dozen Israeli babies born to surrogate Nepalese mothers who were controversially left behind.
Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry’s video does more than “poke gentle fun” at journalists, as Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon says it does. It actually goes beyond criticizing Hamas and instead dehumanizes and falsely represents Palestinians in Gaza with racist tropes that play into already disconcerting animosity toward the Palestinian people and culture. Yes, it mocks journalists. But is also not-so-subtly mocks Palestinians and plays on emotion to draw support.
Perhaps the reason why the second point — that this video dehumanizes Palestinians for political gain — has yet to receive any real analysis is because this is what the public has come to expect from the government of Israel. Predictability can make things easy, but that does not make any of this even remotely acceptable.